SEPTEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Where did September go? In the way of all busy months it seems to have disappeared in a flash. September is a watershed month: the official start of spring after the equinox; the budding of leaves and flowers – a genuine renewal of life in nature; a sprinkling of spring rain to aid that renewal; the arrival of seasonal birds, such as the Lesser-striped Swallows; courting and nest-building amongst the birds – and the biting chill of the end of winter coupled with a few teasing days of sunshine warm enough to make us revel in 30°C heat, only to be plunged into the cold again.

It is good to hear the cheerful calls of the Bokmakierie and to catch the odd glimpse of Cape Wagtails. It was while I was having tea in the garden (sans camera – of course!) that I observed four Common Waxbills feeding on the fine seed dropped from the feeder above them. As if that wasn’t enough, I looked up to find a single Crowned Hornbill observing me from a nearby tree. It sat in full view for about fifteen minutes before flying off.

A pair of Fiscal Shrikes have been chasing each other around the garden. One of them has been ringed, as you can see in this photograph:

Ringed Fiscal Shrike

I mentioned the arrival of the Whiterumped Swifts last month – there a large numbers of them wheeling through the sky now. For me, the true sign of the arrival of spring with a promise of summer ahead is the Lesserstriped Swallow. I have often recorded their triumphs and disasters as far as nest-building and raising their young is concerned. For the first time, a pair of these swallows left a mud nest intact outside our front door. For the first time then, they have been able to twitter and chirp, happy in the knowledge that no nest-building is required after their long journey south. The two of them have wasted no time in re-lining their nest and are already ensconced in it – doubtless having started their family weeks ahead of previous schedules.

Courting on the lamp directly opposite their nest

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Crowned Hornbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

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AUGUST 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

August has been a wonderful month for watching birds in our garden. As the season gradually turns towards spring, the birds have responded by donning their breeding plumage and getting down to the serious business of courting. These are Cape Weavers sporting their breeding plumage.

A Blackbacked Puffback made a fleeting visit last week and, having bemoaned the absence of Malachite Sunbirds last month, I have seen several of them feeding on the Erythrina caffra – much too high up for a decent photograph of them though. I was fortunate to be sitting outdoors when a Cardinal Woodpecker visited a nearby tree and remained there for some minutes before finding one further on that was more likely to have food tucked under the loose bark. It is said that one swallow doesn’t make summer – nothing has been said about swifts, although I was taken aback to see a pair of Whiterumped Swifts flying overhead. I thought I must be mistaken, but they have appeared on more than one occasion since then. The joy of keeping records is that I could look up my bird list for last August and see that the swifts indeed arrived ahead of the much-awaited Lesser-striped Swallows – they will be the harbingers of summer.

The Black (Cape) Crow is not an easy subject to photograph – either absorbing all the light to become a dark blob or reflecting so much light that its features are lost. This time I have nabbed one in reasonable light, so include it here.

At this time of the year we get a regular mix of Cape Weavers and Village Weavers, with a handful of Southern Masked Weavers thrown in. One has to observe them very carefully to distinguish between the latter two. Every now and then a Spectacled Weaver joins the fray at the feeding tray or visits the ‘pub’.  With the drought still plaguing us, the bird baths are very popular. Here are some Cape White-eyes enjoying a bathe.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Blackbacked Puffback
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

JULY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

What an enjoyable month for watching garden birds! The on-going drought means that the food I put out is appreciated by the locals – they have been through a lot of fruit and seed this month! The latest addition to the feeding table are seed cakes which Ceridwen from next door and a friend made for me over the weekend. These have been devoured by the Fiscal Shrikes, Blackcollared Barbets, Boubous, Blackheaded Orioles – and even the Laughing Doves.

Fiscal Shrike

Morrigan’s feeder is a popular haunt in the early mornings and even has queues of birds either waiting their turn or preparing to muscle in on the fine seed I put there.

Laughing Doves

No Lanner Falcon this month, but I had a wonderful view of a Black Harrier being mobbed by a pair of Pied Crows all the way across the garden until they disappeared into the bright sun already lowering in the sky. I have often noticed a Black Harrier perched on telephone wires on the hill above our house over the past few weeks.

Other welcome newcomers to this month’s list include a Hoopoe, a couple of Spectacled Weavers and Pintailed Whydahs. The latter are still in their winter tweeds, although a few are beginning to show a paler breast – the beginnings of their summer sartorial splendour of black and white tuxedo.

Pintailed Whydah with Laughing Doves in the background

The Cape Weavers are showing their breeding blush of colour around their faces – some are almost a deep russet. With winter nearing its end (according to the calendar, if not the current temperature) Village Weavers are also coming out in their breeding colours.

Cape Weaver on the left with a Village Weaver on the right

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Darter
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whitenecked Raven

SOME ADDO BIRDS

Given that the temperature was only 6°C when we entered the Addo Elephant National Park, it is not surprising that these Speckled Mousebirds were fluffed up against the cold and sitting on the top of a bush where they could catch the early rays of the sun.

This Rednecked Spurfowl was happy to have its portrait taken.

We saw a number of Crowned Plovers.

A pair of Secretary Birds scoured the veld for food.

While this isn’t the best of pictures, I was excited to spot an Orangethroated Longclaw in the grass.

Fiscal Shrikes abound in the park and are most often seen perched on a bush such as this.

Here is a fine looking Cattle Egret.

I was rather pleased with my bird list:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black sunbird
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Egyptian Goose
Emeraldspotted Wood Dove
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greyheaded Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Karoo Robin-chat
Little Grebe
Neddicky
Orangethroated Longclaw
Ostrich
Pied Crow
Redknobbed Coot
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Rufousnaped Lark
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shellduck
Speckled Mousebird
Yellowbilled Duck

JUNE 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

June has been an interesting month for birding in our garden. The ongoing dry weather has meant having to fill the bird baths more than once a day – this is appreciated by the Knysna Louries that come down to drink at around eight each morning, again mid-morning, and occasionally late in the afternoon.

The Black-headed Orioles have been calling loudly from the tree tops and I have seen several Laughing Doves mating whilst perched on the swaying branches of some of the trees in the garden. It tends to be rather chilly in the mornings, making the Hadeda Ibises seemingly as reluctant as we are to rise: the first ones only begin to stir at about twenty to seven and the flock as a whole move out of the fig tree after seven o’clock!

Blackheaded Oriole

It is wonderful to see the return of Cape Wagtails as well as a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. Some Crowned Hornbills and a flock of Red-billed Woodhoopoes have paid the garden a fleeting visit this month – as has a Lanner Falcon. The latter remained perched on a low branch near one of the bird baths for some time, its presence was drawn to my attention by the complete absence of doves of any sort. I heard a loud squawking a while later and caught a glimpse of a pair of Knysna Louries having an altercation with the falcon, which then disappeared into the valley.

Olive Thrushes have become more regular visitors once more.

Olive Thrush

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Lanner Falcon
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spoonbill
Village Weaver

MAY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

May has been a quiet birding month in our garden. The tall trees block out the rising sun and leave the lawn in shade until nearly lunch time now. The regular flock of Laughing Doves gather in the top of the Erythrina caffra and the Cape Chestnut, catching the warming rays of the sun; only coming down to feed on the seed I have put out once the day has warmed up somewhat – that seems counter-intuitive to me, but they must have their reason for doing so.

Village Weavers, now in their non-breeding plumage, tend to only visit the garden in the afternoons – appearing to be more interested in what the flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle have to offer than the seeds still lying un-pecked at on the lawn. Perhaps they have found a sunnier source of food elsewhere to satisfy their morning hunger.

The aloes are in bloom though – and what a wonderful show they make.

They regularly attract the attention of Black Sunbirds and the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. A Malachite Sunbird also pays them a fleeting visit now and then. Shown below is a Greater Double-collared Sunbird feeding on a Cape Honeysuckle flower this morning:

Some African Green Pigeons make us aware of their presence in the fig tree now and then, even though there is nothing to eat there at this time of the year. I have always been rather puzzled where these birds move to once the fig tree is bare. I happened to be on the campus of a school at the bottom of the hill late yesterday afternoon when I counted over twenty African Green Pigeons coming to roost in the oak trees growing there!

What has been exciting is the regular appearance of at least one Knysna Lourie – sometimes two – that moves effortlessly through our treed garden. We have become used to some of its variety of calls that alert us to its presence and I watched in awe this morning as it dropped down to drink copiously from the bird bath situated below my study window.

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver

APRIL 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

I have had the feeling all month that the birds in our garden are staging a stay-away – in protest of what, I cannot tell. There hasn’t been that feeling of abundance that usually fills the garden with bird song throughout the day. True, there are no longer tons of wild figs to attract the fructivores – in their place though are other indigenous berries and blossoms. Large flocks of Redwinged Starlings still fly over from time to time, with one or two stopping by for a ‘local’ snack; a pair of Knysna Louries make regular forays through the treetops and I surprised them scuffling around in the bush next to the front path the other morning.

While the plethora of Laughing Doves and the resident Rock Pigeons make a clean sweep of the coarse seed I sprinkle on the lawn every morning, the cut apples remain largely untouched, and I seldom have to fill the ‘seed house’ more than twice a week. Our memories become blurred over time and so I thought it best to compare this month’s bird list with April 2016 – even though I was away for much of the month then. Interestingly enough, the score is about even, with eleven birds seen then not making this year’s list and twelve that I have seen this year that didn’t appear last year.

The swifts and swallows were still around in early April – later than last year; we have not yet heard, let alone seen, a Burchell’s Coucal; and the weavers have made themselves scarce earlier than expected – they are around, but in far fewer numbers.

Farewell to the Lesser-striped Swallows

Particularly interesting visitors have been a Black Harrier and a pair of Rameron Pigeons that came darting in and out of the fig tree for two days in a row before vanishing. It is the first time I have recorded the latter in our garden.

My April bird list is:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Harrier
Black Saw-wing
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Lessser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Rameron Pigeon
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whitenecked Raven
Whiterumped Swift